I was in a rush to get out of the house yesterday and noticed my arms were a bit on the dry side, so I blithely covered them in “Nutriderm” lotion from our downstairs bathroom.  It was the closest substance I could find to help mitigate that white pasty look I get from dry skin.  I didn’t think much of it other than it did the trick.

As I drove to the gym, I started to have these strange images flash into my head.  Things I hadn’t thought about for a very long time.  I realized after a bit, that it was from my arms turning the wheel on the car and creating a smelly updraft that the memories were being triggered by the smell of the lotion.  Once I was parked, I sniffed the lotion more closely and recognized the scent as being exactly the same as the smell from my grandmother in Billings, Montana.  Not that her house smelled like this, but…rather, she smelled like this.

When we visited in summer, I would sit with her in her living room as she went through an elaborate morning ritual.  She’d have her long gray hair clipped up and away from her face.  She kept the locks in braids and would later pin them up in large circles around her head and cover it all with a wig of short gray curly hair.   Once the hair was out of her way, she’d place a small gold clock in front of her on the leather and wood coffee table.  She’d check the time and then begin rubbing her lotion on her face in upward motions. I would watch her as she sat there, her eyes closed as she worked at her face.  It seemed like she did this for hours, though I’m certain that it must only have been about ten minutes.  According to http://health.howstuffworks.com/smell3.htm,

Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain,” smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.  The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. This is part of the reason why not everyone likes the same smells. Because we encounter most new odors in our youth, smells often call up childhood memories.

I don’t think this applies to just childhood memories.  Intense situations also create such links.  Being pregnant intensified and sealed my complete and utter loathing of  rosemary.   Whenever I smell the exhaust of a bus, I get all travel hungry because it reminds me of living in London while in college or traveling in Europe.  Having something so inherently gross and ugly could be a happy smell can only come from a happy association with the smell.  

The smell of Kerri Lotion puts my hubby into a particularly amorous mood–I had slathered copious amounts on to treat a sunburn the day of our first date.  I hadn’t been planning on a date, or I might have been less judicious in my slathering .

When my mom died, I snagged an ancient bottle of Chanel no. 5 that she’d had since I was really little.  When I opened it, my first thought was…why do people wear this crap?  It is really awful.  Still, images of my dad in his dress uniform and my mom in long dresses and jewelry floated to mind–and a romantic sort of sense of who they were as a younger couple going out and living a life came to mind.

I could go on all day about smells and how they affect me.  Could you?